Who was M.J. Menge?

When PJC dedicated its bell tower in 1999, Federal Judge Lacey Collier gave this speech:

The Spirit of Pensacola

(M.J. Menge Bell Tower Dedication)

Come with me to a time some years into the future. We are standing right over there on a bright sun-shiny day, just as today.

And we see a young lady, a first year PJC student, her first day, walking cheerfully along…right along here. Obviously filled with exuberance and enthusiasm; bright-eyed, curious, and eager to learn, she is clearly awed by the beauty of this wonderful campus and the future it offers to her and the majesty of this tower.

She notices an older gentleman standing just over there. Curious as always, she chances to ask, “Do you know who this M.J. Menge was? What did he do to deserve this honor?”

“Yes,” he responded, “I knew him well.”

The old man went on, “This is a perfect honor for him. Although he was a man short in stature, he and his character towered over his peers and this community-just like this structure towers over this campus and the community surrounding it. His powerful voice boomed over this campus and community just as these bells to today.”

M.J. Menge was first and foremost a family man with a beautiful wife, Sandy, two children, a daughter and a son, whom he loved dearly. He was at all times and in all circumstances, a courtly gentleman, whose honesty and integrity were never questioned or doubted.

He was born near DeFuniak Springs into a pioneering northwest Florida family whom he always credited with teaching him the value of hard work, integrity, honesty, and keeping faith with his God. He attended local schools and this same college and honed his political skills as president of the PJC student body in 1956.

He went on to a Bachelor of Arts degree and a juris doctorate with honors from the University of Florida, interrupted by a four year stint in the United States Navy where he excelled as a destroyer gunnery officer. But he never forgot his Northwest Florida roots and returned here to spend more than four decades in the practice of law and civic work.”

The old gentleman continued with obvious pride: “He led many community crusades. He fought for Ellyson Industrial Park, economic growth and tourism. He was in the trenches for some form of governmental consolidation or charter government for Escambia County. He almost single-handedly transformed and embarrassing Pensacola city government by soliciting good people to run for the city council. The good city government you have today is the direct result of his efforts. He loved the United States Navy and worked with a passion to maintain its presence among us as a partner.

He was recognized as a “lawyer’s lawyer” whose word was his bond. In addition to his successful private practice with the firm of Shell, Fleming, Davis, and Menge, he served as attorney for the University of West Florida and Pensacola Junior College. As a young “Jaycee,” he was voted one of the five Outstanding Young Men in Florida.

He contributed to this community in so many ways, serving as president of numerous organizations including the Chamber of Commerce, the PJC Foundation, the YMCA, the March of Dimes, Toastmasters, the Forrestal Commission, the Military Affairs Council and on the boards of innumerable other organizations.

He was a trusted advisor to senators, governors, representative, cabinet members and even lowly federal judges. He made significant contributions toward the creation of this beautiful campus and the quality education that you will receive here which will afford you the opportunity to achieve your dreams.

Although the recipient of many prestigious and well-deserved honor and recognitions including community Leader of the Year in 1979 and the Pensacola Kiwanis Civic Award in 1993, he never sought the spotlight. But his talents and dedication always thrust him into a leadership role which he accepted without complaint for the good of this community and our country.

Yes, there were many other stalwarts around in his era-men like warren Briggs, E.W. Hopkins, General Henry Lane, Earle Bowden, Mayor Vince Whibbs, Ed Hartsell, long time president of PJC, and Charles Atwell-but none stood taller than M.J. Menge.

Yes, this tower is a perfect tribute.”

“You sound as if you really knew him,” the young student asked with suspicion-reflecting on the inevitable march of time, “but you are not old enough, that was long ago.”

“Yes, I did know him,” the old man replied, “I knew him well. He is responsible in a large measure for my youth and vitality to day. For you see, I am the Spirit of Pensacola.”

No one has contributed more to what I am and what I will be than did M.J. Menge.

Let us return now to today, on a personal note; thank you for affording me the privilege of participating in this ceremony. May this tower stand for hundreds of years tolling our thanks to a wonderful human being for all he has done for us, this college, our community, and our country. I am proud to call him my lawyer and honored to call him my friend.